Self Publishing Writing The Book

Writing Tools For Self-Publishing: Free & Paid – Pros and Cons

I’ve used word processors and writing tools since vi and WordStar (ask someone over 40, kids) but this is not a history of software piece so lets look at what options you have for writing and why the answer is not always, or even often, Microsoft Word .  Word is everyone’s goto answer for any typing – but frankly –  I find it a poor choice for most of my writing, but most particularly for anything longer than about 5000 words. 

Word Processor or Text Editor

A text editor is software that edits text (duh) – so it’s simple – although most will rise to a bold or italic – that is about it. Tables, footnotes, automatic table of contents, pretty headers and footers – no way. Just you and the words. Word is not a text editor – although it can save as text – most of the pretty formatting will of course be lost.

So why on earth would you use a text editor. Lot’s of reasons but my top five are:

  1. Portability – I don’t need to know if you run Linux or MacOS, are on an Android Tablet, or are running a cray super-computer. They will all read a text file.
  2. Quick and small. A text editor program is very, very small which means it runs on ancient hardware, and you carry it around on an USB stick.
  3. Distraction free. I am the Queen of Procrastination, playing with button and formatting will win over actually writing ever time – so writing full-screen, distraction free mode works for me.
  4. The first rule of writing efficiently is to split writing from editing and formatting.  Pretty much every prolific author agrees on this – so  it’s worth doing too.  So less is more in terms of formatting – I generally stick with bold and italic and sometimes some mark-up for headings and lists. 

Best Text Editors:

Write Monkey

  • free
  • tiny download 6MB – run it from a USB stick if you want to
  • full-screen, distraction free
  • download from:

WriteMonkey I use all the time, it’s old school just a blank screen (everything is on f1) full screen it’s about as simple as you can get. I think making it sound like a typewriter is funky (but you can turn that off), and it shows word and character counts, quietly on the bottom bar. You can do quite sophisticated tracking of your writing speed including a countdown timer for sprint writing and partial counts for that session.

You add simple mark up for bold and italic, and headings if that’s what you want. It does automatic backups YEAH. It’s actively updated and works on all forms of Windows including the latest Windows 8.

Best Used For

Good for short articles, including blog posts – because it’s just text it’s easy to cut and paste into WordPress without any weird formatting (try doing that with Word!) . Once I’m writing something longer than an article I prefer other options – see below


I’ve previously used Q10 – and reviewed it here – honestly I can’t recall why I swapped – they both have very similar features. Note I don’t use WordPad (included with Windows) – no word-count and no auto-backup.

The bad news? Windows only – the most often suggested for Mac option is DarkRoom

Better Than A Text Editor? 

There are some issues with text editors.  It’s not easy to organise your chapters into a coherent whole, the lack of some form of outline can be a deal breaker. Ideally I want to be able tag chapters differently (“2nd draft”, “reference check”), see word counts for both parts of the manuscript and the whole. 

Best Long Manuscript Software 


Buy Scrivener for Windows (Regular Licence)

I’ve used Scrivener for at least a year now and it’s very good. There are two distinctly different versions: one for MacOS and one for Windows. There is a version scheduled for iOS “late 2012” . It’s a full-featured package which pretty much does all you want. The Windows version misses some key features, like flexible formatting for eBooks and exporting to shared drives. However for writing I like it because of: 

  • nice mix of outlining tools including both a traditional outline and a corkboard of file cards both of which are good for outlining;
  • flexible tagging with colour coding so you can keep track of at what stage  each part is; 
  • a little formatting – but not too much
  • separates writing from compiling to an output format

It’s not free – it costs around $45 from LIterature & Latte (evil affiliate link click back to the front page for the free trial download (yes their affiliate system is crap)). However download the free version and you have 30 days of usage (not elapsed) to try it out before deciding if it works for you. 


Evernote running on ipad mini
My Preeeeciooous running Evernote

I’m not quite sure why I’ve only just discovered Evernote – it’s now indispensable to me for all sorts of things like notes, to-do lists, journals, and stuff I may read later. However it’s also not a bad drafting tool and because of it’s truly flexible tagging system you can build an entire structure of a book in notes if that’s what you want to do. Plus there is a whole community of fanatics so if you Google you will find how to write a 90,000 word book in Evernote . 

It’s syncing across devices is particularly awesome – so if  you use a number of difference machines to write on this could well be worth looking at.  

Oh and Evernote can capture audio and images as well – in fact even though I may not write an entire book in it I’m seriously considering using it in the research phase 

Price: free, or $5/month for the pro version (which I have) 


If you are running a blog you’ll already be very familiar with WordPress. In many ways it’s a reasonable place to write a book. You can either publish “chapters” as posts as you go – or just leave them all in draft. Hell you can even share them with selected collaborators using WP security. And there are tags and categories to manage the process. Their are even plugins that will help: I played with Anthologize and liked it. 

WordPress is of course free. 

Before you commit to any of these solutions consider how you are going to manage the entire workflow from draft to beat readers to editors to formatting and publishing. 

17 replies on “Writing Tools For Self-Publishing: Free & Paid – Pros and Cons”

My favourite program for producing PDFs is Writer from OpenOffice. It’s free, it has very similar functionality to Word but not the bloated coding (so it loads, previews and saves in like half the time) and the “Save to PDF” function preserves hypertext links.

I realize that’s not the main focus of your post, but if you’re looking for something to produce a quick PDF short ebook then it’s a great choice.

Yes, I’m in the over 40 crowd and I remember WordStar! Just don’t test my memory on those escape codes. It was kinda archaic like WordPerfect was. I still prefer Word simply because most businesses require it.

I believe the largest Word doc I ever produced was more than 300 pages long. What a pain to navigate and make revisions.

I use MS Publisher for producing most marketing material such as white papers and tech notes.

There also is a Linux version of Scrivener. I use it for creating and gathering content for niche sites.

“vi” for developing software and Evernote for just about everything else.

I’m currently using Notepad++ on Windows Vista, but I normally use either Geany or Gedit on Ubuntu. The text files are the only things portable between them, but that’s okay.

“So why on earth would you use a text editor.” That should be a question, right? Your writing is crap. This article is filled with so many spelling mistakes and grammatical errors that the credibility of your advice just flies right out the window. Maybe you should spend less time fiddling around with writing software and more time learning how to write and edit properly.

Gotta love the anonymous haters ! One question “Tracy” have you ever published anything?

Hi Lis! Just finished reading ‘Kindle Formatting For Non Fiction’. I have read many books on formatting for the Kindle, with few delivering on the promise to make it quick & easy to publish a beautiful, professional quality ebook and help boost the ratings of reader reviews. Every body’s a critic, myself included, but you’re 100% right about people leaving poor reviews simply because an ebook contains typo’s & formatting issues, regardless of how great the content.

Like you, I go way back with computer word processing, back when Wordperfect was Queen, cost a Kings fortune, and a college education to master. My 20 MB Kaypro had 2 5 1/4″ slots, one for the ‘read’ and one for the ‘write’ disk. A sweet little shareware program, EasyWriter, a WYSIWYG wp/dtp, handled all my business and personal publications with ease, had virtually no learning curve, and cost me 99 cents (to cover the cost of the floppy.

There was no world wide web, but CompuServe & Prodigy fueled the addiction that kept us glued to our amber 12″ screens, oblivious to all else, & got us labeled ‘GEEKS’. I remember downloading ebooks (were they called that then?) it took forever – sometimes all night, then printing the file on the good ol’ dot matrix.

Margin size, line spacing, bold & italics were our formatting options. Quality content was rare, indeed.

Lis, your book lived up to the 5-star reviews it received from all but one (I think) reader, who gave it 4 stars. I can now remove all those programs I downloaded as suggested by all those other authors. I will be keeping tabs on any future offerings from you, my dear – you’re awesome!

Let me answer for Tracy – No, he/she has never published anything, and obviously hasn’t purchased and read your paid content either. And what’s with Atul? He has ‘balls’, alright. This was a review article, not an article on editing. It was a no-fluff, info-rich article that delivered what the title promised. Bravo!

I thought your replies to both were fitting, & though you certainly don’t need any back up from me or anyone else for that matter, I just couldn’t resist. (he-he)

The real reason for my visit to your blog was to try to find out what program you write your ebooks in. You didn’t say in your book, but I got the feeling it wasn’t Word. Can’t I just use notepad++ to both write & format? Not at the same time of course. I own Word, but use notepad++ for research notes, ideas, and sometimes whole chapters.

I use Scrivener predominantly to write long-form. For articles and blog posts I use WriteMonkey or Evernote – I like simple editors as you can probably tell. The thing with Scrivener is that it’s very easy to plan out chapters and then re-arrange it frequired and you can also track your progress quite easily

And maybe you can get down from your highhorse and read articles for their content and relevance, not cloud your judgement by nitpicking about issues which are, frankly, petty. Dick Smith and Richard Branson both have dyslexia, (not that I’m suggesting Lis has) Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard Business School because he thought “they couldn’t teach him anything about business he couldn’t work out for himself” and Andrew Carnegie never finished primary school. They all seem to have done well for themselves.

I agree with Tracy here… @ Louis Comparing personalities won’t change the fact that this article has above average mistakes and not pleasant to read. I got the message of the article.. despite the mistakes.

Also, by asking someone that “have you published anything?” does not address the issue here… Simply it could have been accepted that “Yes I agree that the first draft was published here and no review was carried out (or something similar)”.

Tracy was a little harsh with her words but that does’t change the fact that the article is poorly written.

Well Atul you at least have the balls to leave a believable email address and link to your own site. And your use of English is definitely different. But I’m not so rude to leave a comments saying your writing is crap as “Tracy” did to me.

The thing is this is a blog. Do I angst over every last word. Nope. Will I edit the content in the future – yes – but then it will be going into a book which probably won’t be free. My question about have you published anything – was in fact completely deliberate – those that angst about typos also tend towards perfectionism, and perfectionism is a common cause of so-called “writer’s block”.

And seriously you think I’m going to be nice to someone who comes anonymously to my site and states my “writing is crap” – get real.

Oh shoot me now, I started not just a sentence, but an entire paragraph, with a preposition.

“The thing is this is a blog.”

Yes, absolutely. It’s like expecting someone to write their shopping list or a note for the milkman in perfectly-formed, grammatically-correct English. Not going to happen.

I’m wondering if “Tracy” might be from SBI, teeheehee 🙂

You know some of the grammar nazis and even writing purists make the SBI crowd look very, very laid back. Fanatics are everywhere!

Where is the like button? 🙂 I need to click it for this reply.

I am from India and English is not my native language… May be because of that the style seems different.

Thanks for al the practical advice Lis, it’smuch appreciated – ‘warts & all’ :>))

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