A Guide To The Tools I've Used To Create "It's A Stray Dog's Life 2"
As you know, I’ve now published two books. The first was through a hybrid publisher, and the second was self-published. I will, at some point in the future, write a blog about the pros and cons of each. Before we move on to the main point of this blog, however, I’ll give you a little reminder you can buy both books by clicking the link below.
In my journey so far, I’ve used various pieces of software to create my author brand and get the books ready for publishing. This is not a definitive review of everything available, but an insight into what’s worked for me. I haven’t been able to use Kindle Create, for example, as my computer is too old and won’t run it on its ageing operating system. I also have not contacted the organisations involved in this blog. Hence the lack of logos! I have included links to the relevant websites, though. I don’t gain any benefit from this and certainly don’t get paid. I’m purely passing on my experience, even though I’m sure you have other pet favourites too. I also don’t have the budget for advertising, so I’ll have to leave that aspect for a future blog. Although a career in PR means I have a pretty good idea of where to spend it when I have it.
I did a lot of research and asked many questions along the way. I had two key factors in mind. The first was the budget. I really didn’t have any money to spend, so any outgoings had to be fully justifiable. It’s why you’ll see some of the paid for items are lifetime subscriptions. It makes them very cheap in the long run. I also searched for special offers which are far more plentiful than just the usual Black Friday stuff. The second factor was customer service. I don’t want to trawl the internet struggling, in vain, to find an answer to a question that would, invariably, be “press this button”. All the software I’ve listed comes with excellent customer service. I really can’t praise them all enough. Excellent customer service is key to any company growing. It’s why I’m always amazed when it’s an area many large companies neglect.
I’ll start at the beginning. I decided long before trying to find a publisher for the first book that I’d need a website. It’s been many years since I last designed one, so I wanted something easy and cheap. www.wix.com has given me everything I wanted.
You can have a totally free website, ranging from a simple fill in the gaps in the plethora of templates to one created from scratch. The web design is so simple and intuitive that I even created a website for my friend’s restaurant in under 2 hours. The plug-ins are very simple and actually work (unlike another well-known competitor). For example, the blog is simple. I type in the words, add a couple of images and it does the rest.
There are a couple of small downsides. The free website it offers will contain the Wix branding. It’s not really an issue and is a small price to pay for a free website. The other was a slight annoyance. They have recently introduced sections, which is a great idea, making it even easier to design most websites. However, it immediately overlaid my existing website and took a fair bit of sorting out. It was a minor irritation and gave me something to do on a wet Wednesday.
The benefits far outweigh my minor frustrations, though. I wanted an unbranded URL so bought the website name you are currently visiting. A year’s hosting and free name cost less than most of us spend on coffee for the day. There are frequent special offers making it incredibly cheap, so make sure you keep your eyes open. I received 50% off. That's a deal I’d grab all day long. I’ve also added email which is run through Gmail. It was surprisingly cheap and well worth the investment, especially when sending out press releases.
The customer service has also been amazing. They solve my problems quickly and in a friendly manner. Even better, they give me ideas on improving the website. It’s one reason you’ll be seeing a few extras in the coming months.
My website sorted. It was time to make sure the books were written, edited, and proofread. It’s important to realise there is no substitute for a human editor and proofreader. Software can take us all so far, but if you have some spare budget, you can’t beat the excellent editors out there. I’m also a little old school. There’s no substitute for a paper and pen when writing the first draft of a book. It means I can do my first edit when I type it up. We’ve all grown up with Microsoft Word because it is extremely good and compatible with almost everything. I’ve even started using the free version available from the outlook website. It has its faults, especially the spelling and grammar checker, which, in all honesty, is dreadful. However, it’s a great starting point for getting the words into shape and saved on a computer.
I mention spelling and grammar on purpose. I found the solution. www.prowritingaid.com is mind-blowingly good. There is a free version which is excellent for spotting spelling and grammar mistakes. However, there’s a lifetime subscription as well. I’ll even point you toward a huge discount later on, too. The difference with the upgrade is incredible. It actually differentiates between American and correct English for starters, which has always been my major issue with Word. It gives various reports that help with writing style. It’s so clever it can spot whether I’m writing a book or a press release (you can manually tell it as well). It’s so easy to use it took me longer to log-on than work out how to use it. There’s still features I haven’t used, but will get round to. It’s a quite brilliant piece of software.
I mentioned there are some big discounts available, and not just on Black Friday. There’s a website that’s been of enormous help to me at www.kindlepreneur.com. It has discounts for many tools any author needs. It also has some really cool free stuff, such as a barcode generator, a sales calculator, a social media hashtag generator, and much more. There’s a clear understanding of how the Amazon world works, which even the great bookshop in the cloud acknowledges. It’s well worth a look, as I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s on there.
There are two very important pieces of paid software it provides. The first is a game-changer for all authors. www.atticus.io is a word-processor, internal layout for eBook and print with numerous templates, autosave in the cloud to give added protection from losing 70,000 words of a manuscript, and it’s web-based so you can use it on any computer anywhere in the world. Unlike its main competitor, it isn’t limited to having to use a Mac, which is hugely helpful to those that haven’t succumbed to the Apple world yet. A lifetime subscription is just $147 and you can have as many WIP or books on there as you like. I now keep everything on there. When you’ve finished your latest masterpiece, you can download either the eBook or print pdf and upload it directly to whichever sales channel you’re using.
I thought it would take me a while to get used to it. Nope, I’d got “It’s A Stray Dog’s Life 2” sorted within 48 hours. I enjoy using it so much, I now have several WIPs uploaded and ready to go. If you expect to be self-publishing several books, then I urge you to find the money for this. It’s worth every penny. I haven’t even scratched the surface of what I can do with it yet, but I get to play until I find more of its capabilities. I did, unsurprisingly, find one weakness. It cannot, as yet, split a book down into parts. Most won’t need it as a function, but it would have helped me. I know it’s one of the extra functions being worked on and I’m looking forward to it arriving.
I mentioned there were two pieces of paid-for software available from www.kindlepreneur.com and the second is worth using early in the process to help writing your book blurb, and even potentially titling the book. www.publisherrocket.com is an amazing piece of software. A lifetime subscription is available for $97, although that will change at some point, so get in there whilst it’s still cheap as chips. What Publisher Rocket offers is pretty simple on the surface. We all need to know what are the best keywords and categories for our book to give it the best chance of success. This is exactly what it gives you. Working out where you should position your book is no longer weeks trawling through Amazon and hoping for the best. Publisher Rocket gives you all the information you need in minutes. The added benefit is you can identify the keywords and then ensure they match with your book blurb. It makes it much easier to write.
So, we’ve designed our website, produced the internal side of the book, and even started the marketing. We need a cover that stands out. I’m very fortunate to have a close friend who does my covers for the price of a cup of coffee. I badly draw a concept, we discuss it; he goes away and makes it look spectacular and then sends it to me. Job done. Well, almost. The next piece of software is something I’ve been using for years. My other life involved a lot of sending graphics and design work to people. We all know how much that can block your email for days. There is a solution.
www.wetransfer.com is wonderful, and it’s free. It’s easy to send large files without blocking your email. You upload, it sends an email to the recipient, who downloads the file at their end. You then get an email letting you know they have downloaded it. Quick, simple and hassle-free. There is a paid upgrade that allows things such as collaborative working, but I’ll let you visit their website to see the full list. They have promised me there’s no plan to take away the free file-sharing service, so it’s going to be around and useful to us for a long while yet. If you’re a designer, illustrator, editor or proofreader, I highly recommend using www.wetransfer.com. It will change your life. Best of all, it gives a paper trail for when clients claim they haven’t received something (we’ve all been there). It’s as though someone knew what they were doing when they created it.
The one gap in my experiences is book cover design. I know there are companies offering the service, and free websites that give basic stuff. However you look at it, though, you can’t beat a good human designer or illustrator. A book cover will help sell books (the first few comments on my first book were all about the cover, you know the one, it's just won Best Cover Design at the Feed My Reads Awards). Producing the best one possible gives you a head start. If you don’t know a designer, then I can point you toward a very useful self-publishing company in the UK. www.swspublishing.com. Maddy and the team are friendly and unbelievably helpful. They can offer help in all aspects of your publishing, so check out their website. There’s a genuine feeling they want every author to succeed and, if you spend some money with them, all the better. It’s not compulsory though, as they proved by listing “It’s A Stray Dog’s Life 2” in their library for free.
So the book is ready. Now to publish it. We all know the vast reach of Amazon, so, for me, it was a straightforward decision to use KDP. I’d uploaded everything, and the book was live for pre-order within 72 hours. Customer service was excellent, offering help when needed and the response was incredibly quick. I know others have had a few issues, but I found using the live chat resolved anything and everything quickly. You even get a free ISBN for paperbacks and hardbacks. It’s also free, which is always a bonus. You have to enrol your eBook in Kindle Unlimited for 3 months, but that is a good thing. www.kindlepreneur.com recently did some research that found almost all categories in the Amazon bookstore were dominated by either one of the top 5 publishers or by books enrolled in Kindle Unlimited. It surprised them so much they updated Publisher Rocket to include details on a book’s KU status. It’s true authors get less than if someone had bought the book, but think how many would never have read it if they hadn’t been a subscriber. If you enjoy reading books, then can I recommend Kindle Unlimited. I’ve signed both my parents up, and it’s already saving them money as they read more than 2 books a month.
The book is now available, and it’s time to wait for the pennies to roll-in. Whoa, hold your horses. It’s not that simple. You still need to let people know your book is out there. Otherwise, how will they know to buy it? You’re going to need social media posts, posters, promo videos and other things to really get the book into people’s consciousness. It sounds expensive and it can be. I have to point out you won’t find anything that can replace a good designer. We can do some things for ourselves, but there’s a reason designers charge. It’s because they can do the things we can’t. We are on tight budgets (normally zero) as authors, so where can we find solutions?
www.canva.com is great. It’s free, although you can upgrade for a pretty nominal amount per year and get a lot more free images, audio tracks, templates, etc. To be honest, you get enough with the free version to keep you going. The downside is you can only resize images with the upgraded package. Thankfully, there are perfectly sized templates for just about everything. I’ve even put together all the videos on this site (including the one below) using www.canva.com. I will not win an Oscar for them, but I’m still quite happy. When I can afford to do professional trailers, I’ll call the right people. Oh, and did I mention it’s free?
www.bookbrush.com is another design website it’s worth looking at. I needed a graphic for the inside of one of my books, and it took me moments to put together. I didn't find it as intuitive as Canva, but it had a lot of great sizing options that are tailored to authors. I received 15 free downloads, but after that it’s a paid for service which I don’t have budget for as yet. It meant I couldn’t play as much as I’d like. What I did use was good, but it’ll be interesting to find out what more I can do with it.
I reiterate, there’s no software capable of matching a human designer, so don’t expect miracles.
I’ve mentioned social media and am constantly having to rewrite this part as Twitter bounces around from being in "full recovery" to "will it still be alive tomorrow?" There isn’t a perfect alternative for it yet, but there are some great social media sites out there, so play with them and stick with the ones you enjoy. I have noticed they all have an amazing writing community. The support and friendship shared between writers on social media is amazing. I can’t even hope to list all those who’ve helped me or become friends, but I am going to push you toward a few. It’s important to get your book listed online as it helps people find it. Finding a listing website that also publicises your book on social media for free is the holy grail. Look no further than www.ebooklingo.com. There are some paid for options, but LinkedIn and Twitter are free. You should also look at www.bookclubpro.com. It’s very similar and equally useful.
There are others worth keeping your eyes open for. www.timetofeedmyreads.blogspot.com is an amazing community that is growing remarkably quickly. Do not miss out on it. It’s the most amazing achievement to get it up and running and gives plenty of opportunities for great interviews ranging from the sublime to amusing. Give a follow to www.tweetables.com too. Great reviews from a range of genres and excellent author interviews. You’ll also make a new friend quickly. Likewise, Sue’s Musings (suelbavey.wordpress.com) is a must see. Sue does a wonderful job of highlighting indie authors and their books.
Now, if you like dogs and books (why are you here if you don’t?), there’s a couple you really must follow. Jackie Lambert is living the dream, driving around in a camper van with her husband and 4 dogs. She’s amazingly friendly too. You can see her blog at www.worldwidewalkies.blog. She also introduced me to Paul at www.learningfromdogs.com. You can see a few pics of my strays on his blog, plus many, many more. True to form, Paul is fast becoming a good friend, too. That’s the way the writing community and animal lovers seem to work together. It’s great.
Finally, there’s something software can’t give. Family and friends have been the greatest support. Cherish them, but don’t expect them to buy a copy of your book. They’ll want a free one!
That’s enough from me. I dare say you’ll have your own favourite pieces of software to help you on your journey, but if there’s stuff you’re unsure of, then I hope this blog has helped in some small way.
MaxS and The Strays
P.S. Christmas is coming. A book is the perfect stocking filler. I hope it’s one, or both, of mine, but I’ll also be happy if it’s someone else’s. Encouraging reading is the goal. We can’t do that unless people buy books. So get those stockings filled (stop sniggering in the back row!).
P.P.S. I was recently asked what I wanted for Christmas. So here’s my list if anyone is thinking what to get me:
An Aston Martin, a Sunseeker Predator, a Tag Heuer Aquaracer, a Sea-doo jet ski, but most importantly, a new computer. Who knows, I might sell enough books to get at least one. If not, I’ll crack open a beer and toast the amazing friends I’ve made on this journey.