Links for Writers

I've been meaning to do this for awhile, but kept putting it off.  Today, though, I decided to get off my duff and get to it.

I was talking to a coworker recently.  We started off on other subjects but eventually we worked around to writing.  He revealed, without knowing that I too write on the side, that he'd written most of an epic novel.  He didn't know about Scrivener or NaNoWriMo, which I told him about, but I thought how great it would be if I could send him to a page that would give him a good starting point for where to go to learn more.  I've been studying on the subject of writing, publishing, self-publishing, and the whole indie movement for awhile, and over the years I've found some really good sites, articles, and posts.  What kind of value would such a curated list have for the new writer, to be able to cut through the cruft of search results and endless links.  Invaluable.  But I've settled on the price of free (although, you're always welcome to buy/rate/review any of my titles, if you're feeling generous).  As they would say on TV, but wait, that's not all!  Since my pages don't allow comments, I'm making it a post so that other people can add their own favorite links to the discussion.  So, now you can get all their free links, too.  Besides links, I'll throw in some tips, too.  Is that a deal or what?  Cheap at twice the price.

This list is kind of slanted toward self-publishing, although there should be some value here, too, for those seeking to be traditionally published.  One of the downsides of self-publishing is that it's much more entrepreneurial, which means you'll have to do more work and spend more money up front.  Being traditionally published is more like going to work for someone.  You have to manage to get hired first, but then they tend to take care of more of the details and costs and supporting roles.  Of course, the tradeoff is that your royalties and control will be less.  In either case, you can be a star, a flop, or somewhere in between.  Choose carefully, and realize that you're not necessarily locked into one or the other.  You can always choose the hybrid model (assuming of course you can get picked up traditionally).

So, here's my opening list, in no real order.  As time goes by, I may come back and add more, but this should get the newbie writer or newbie self-publisher off to a good start.  Before you get started, though, you should probably take a gander at my disclaimer on the Misc page to make sure you’re cool with that.  I’d hate for you to rush headlong into this and ruin your life.






  • Articles on the topic I've liked
  • Don't use DRM.  I wrote an article on it here.  The short of it is that you'll annoy and possible alienate your readers while providing the merest of roadblocks for piracy that will be quickly and easily bypassed.  Regarding piracy, which do you think is worse:  piracy or obscurity?  Think about it.


  • Articles on the topic I've liked
  • I'm not a big blogger, but some authors are.  It can certainly get you some exposure.  If not for their blogs and/or online/social-media presence, I probably would have never heard of JA Konrath, Joanna Penn, Joel Friedlander, or Ben Wallace.  If you're going to blog, you'll need content.  I have a number of items that feed into my feedly news reader.  If you're not sure where to start off getting content from, Alltop and Google News are good sources that you can customize to show your interests.  If you're into the same sorts of topics I am, you can subscribe to my Instapaper Liked feed, although that's going to be more curated, less cutting edge.
  • Looking for a blogging platform that can possibly do double-duty as your website?  The biggies are Blogger, SquareSpace, Tumblr, Typepad, and WordPress, although there are plenty more.  WordPress is the most popular.  Blogger is the only one I've used to date.  It's a strong, cheap ($10/year for a custom domain) blogging platform that's okay as a web site.  If you want to get really fancy, though, be prepared to invest some serious time getting down and dirty in html and javascript, and even then you may run into limitations.

Marketing/Social Media

  • Articles on the topic I've liked
  • Automating your social media updates is very cool and helps spread them out so you're not bombarding your followers all at once (and can catch ones that are online when you're otherwise occupied).  I use a combination of IFTTT, Buffer, Tweriod, Instapaper, Zapier, and HootSuite.  At some point, I'll write up a tutorial on how I use them and link to it from here.
  • Pick the social media sites you like and will use.  Don't spread yourself too thin.  Form relationships; don't constantly blast out advertising/self-promotion.  'Tis better to give than receive.
    • Go follow me and check out who I follow, like, retweet, circle, etc.



Software I recommend

  • Microsoft Word.  Really, you're going to be hard-pressed to get around it.  Most self-pub places will take it; Smashwords practically requires it.  Your editor will probably want a doc file.  Directions for using it to self-publish abound.  You can probably get by without it, possibly using alternatives, but depending on what your time is worth to you, it might be less costly to just cough up for the cost of Word.  If you're a student, you should be able to get a reduced-cost or even free version through your school's bookstore or DreamSpark.
    • I've used every Office for Windows iteration since 4.3.  2010's my version of choice at the time of this writing.  The ribbon is much improved over 2007 and is pretty usable now.  I don't care much for some of the changes that came with 2013. 
  • Scrivener.  Although you'll likely use Word at some point in the process, it's not necessarily the best for actually doing your writing in.  Scrivener is the best writing software I've used.  It's powerful yet simple to use.  I can't imagine going back to writing in Word.  They have a fully functional trial, so you should really try it out.  And if you're a NaNoWriMo winner, you can generally get it at a discount.
  • Adobe InDesign.  I have a love-hate relationship with most Adobe products, and InDesign is no exception.  It's extremely powerful at the expense of intuitiveness.  It's expensive, too.  However, if you really care about professional-level print layout, you're going to get much more precise results from this than you would from Word, especially if your layout is complex.  I wouldn't buy it, though, until you run up against unacceptable limitations in your other software and have the time to invest in learning to use it.
    • Want to try out some cheaper alternatives to the Adobe products?  Lifehacker's got a great roundup.  Now that Adobe has forced their CS users onto a subscription model, I can think of no better time to start learning the alternatives.
  • Paint.NET.  It's pretty powerful, and it's free.  When I run up against something I can't do in it, I turn to Photoshop.
    • GIMP's probably the most popular Photoshop alternative.  I didn't care for it the last time I tried it, but that's been years, so it likely has improved greatly since then. 
    • I hear that Photoshop Elements gets you 80% of the Photoshop functionality at 20% of the cost.
  • Artrage.  I like Artrage, if that wasn't obvious.  It's cheap, and it's almost instantly familiar to those of us who grew up using analog materials to draw with.  You know, things like paper, pens, pencils, crayons, etc.  Aside from the night effects (I applied those with Photoshop), I drew the entirety of Derrick the Dog in Artrage using a cheapie Wacom Bamboo tablet.  No more trips to the craft store.  While I wish it shipped with a proper set of graded drawing pencils (you know, H, B, and the others), it's still pretty darn impressive.  And they have a friendly forum, too, with some helpful and talented artists.

Blogs/Sites I recommend

Podcasts I recommend

  • Stuff You Should Know & Stuff You Missed in History Class.  Fun and educational, I've picked up facts and ideas that have inspired stuff I've written.
  • Dan Carlin's Hardcore History & Common Sense.  Thought-provoking and in-depth.  Dan should hold a high government office or be an advisor to those who do.
  • Grammar Girl.  Self-explanatory.  She wrote a book, too, which I intend to pick up one of these days.
  • Money Girl.  If you make enough money to quit your day job, you're going to have to worry about taxes, insurance, and retirement accounts.  Money Girl covers all these things.
  • Writing Excuses.  Quick and useful.
  • Odyssey SF/F Writing Workshop.  Sound quality is usually bad, but they have useful lectures.
  • The Creative Penn.  Yes, she podcasts, too.
  • The Self-Publishing Podcast.  Funny, useful, not quick, NSFW.

Books I recommend

  • My howto shelf on Goodreads is probably a good place to check.


  • My editor is Victoria Shockley.  I like her enthusiasm.  Her prices are flexible and reasonable and she turns stuff around quickly. My wife and I agree that Derrick the Dog is stronger as a result of her edits.
  • Joanna Penn has compiled a list of recommended editors.
    • Deborah Bancroft was on Joanna's list and came highly recommended to me, and we exchanged several emails.  Although we didn't work together (scheduling), I would still feel comfortable suggesting you check her out.
  • Find an author with a well-edited book and see who he or she used.
  • How to approach and vet an editor?  I had trouble finding good advice on that, until I stumbled on this post by India Drummond.  I took it and ran with it, modifying it as I needed.  Deborah said it was the perfect way to approach an editor.
  • No budget?  Editing is really something you should try to fit into your budget.  But if it's not possible (and it can get expensive), here are some alternatives:
    • Get a critique from your carefully vetted beta readers, writing group, other authors, readers who read in your genre, literate friends, and/or family.  I list those in roughly descending order of desirability.  You're more likely to get honest feedback from acquaintances than you are from friends and family.  The more eyes you can get on your work, the more likely you are to get valuable feedback.
      • Interested in beta reading for me?  Check out my Misc page for details about becoming one of my beta readers.
    • You could try a software approach, something like AutoCrit or Pro Writing Aid.  I've not taken these for a spin, but I may at some point (I'm curious).  Software, of course, has its limitations (Word's grammar checker, anyone?), but can still be helpful.
    • Try it yourself.  Just don't be surprised if you miss stuff.  I was an English tutor in college.  I got A's on nearly every writing assignment.  I was shocked by the amount of problems and errors that Victoria found in my first book, even after I'd edited the hell out of it.  You just don't see your own mistakes and shortcomings as clearly as someone else, especially someone with the proper training and experience.  If you still decide to go the self-editing route, I recommend you check out this post by Jody Hedlund and this one by Joanna Penn.
      • Actually, if I have time, I do those before I send projects over to Victoria, so she has the best that I can produce (and she still finds stuff wrong).  It should make her job quicker and easier and require fewer rounds of editing.  Since most editors have a price range per word or charge by the hour, this should also make it cheaper for you than if you give them a first-draft mess should you later decide to hire a pro.
  • For heaven's sake, don't send out an unedited manuscript into the world for readers as though it was a final product and ready for public consumption.  You only get one chance to make a first impression.

Cover Designers


  • If you have money left over from editing and cover design, this is probably the next place you want to spend it.  There are a lot of subtle nuances in good book design that you likely don't notice until they're flubbed up.  Spacing, margins, gutters, bleed, kerning, leading, front matter, typography.  Do you really want to learn all that?
  • No budget for this?  You can probably make do on your own, although it may not be as pretty.  Check out The Book Designer for help.
  • Got a little money?  There are some good-looking templates at  Joel's stated that they're also working on some InDesign templates.  I'm waiting patiently.  Joel, I could use a better children's book template, full bleed, 8.5x8.5.

Post a Comment