Remember that one time you sat down at your writing desk, loaded up your writing app of choice, then scratched your head because you didn’t know what to type? Yeah, I know. Yesterday. What about the time before that? Yep, two days ago. Been there. How did you handle it? Went on social media? I get it. Walked the dog? Someone has to. Did your taxes (in August)? Okay, I think we have a problem here.
I don’t think the problem is writer’s block. I think the problem is with resistance. Writing is hard. It requires you to both imagine and think. That’s almost as bad as walking and chewing gum at the same time. No one’s that coordinated.
But what if you had the ability to write your story in an app that could minimize the need for imagination and thought by putting you in the zone? And by “zone,” I mean “mood.” What if you could trim out your distractions, put on mood-setting music that’s appropriate for your style, genre, or scene, and even set a writing canvas that resembles in some loose way the scene you want to paint?
The good news is that such an app exists. The better news is that I’ve already covered it once upon a time. But the best news is that such an app (we’ll call it Frost Writer, because that’s what the developer calls it) is getting an update today. That app, Frost 4.0, has just added new backgrounds, music, and features to make writing that story about dogs and cats living together fun again.
With Frost 4.0, there’s no need to complain about writer’s block. Just sit down, pick your favorite theme (which may include a new Parisian style theme called “Baroque” or a desert adventure theme called “Dunes” to name two of the latest additions), and get writing.
What are the limitations, besides your imagination? Well, it’s still primarily a drafting tool, not an editing or finalization tool. There’s still no special formatting in Frost 4.0. Need to italicize a word? Tough. Do it in post. Maybe you need to spell “café” with that accent? Not in Frost you don’t. Fortunately, when your writing session ends, you can export your text to a text file, then copy it into the formatter of your choice. Prefer Microsoft Word to Scrivener? Okay. Prefer Scrivener to Microsoft Word? Sure. You can export your work to either of them because it’s just a text file. No style. Just words.
Of course, you may be wondering why you should bother using an app that just lets you write unformatted text. Well, the short answer is that the inability to edit as you go means you can just get words written and not look back. But the better answer is that you can write distraction-free while also listening to appropriate music while also looking at appropriate backgrounds.
And now that those backgrounds are also dynamic? I mean, now you’ve got all you need to get that story started.
Note: If you have no idea what I mean by “dynamic backgrounds,” well, in practical terms, it means that the backgrounds “move.” In other words, you don’t have to stare at static images all day. If you want to write your holiday story with an active snowfall in the background, well now you can! With dynamic backgrounds, of course. Frost 4.0 has that feature, too.
Overall, I think Frost 4.0 is worth your time. For one, it’s free. But also, it does what it promises. Distraction-free writing that puts you in the mood. What more do you really want in a free web-based writing app? I mean, besides the ability to do everything that the premium apps can do?
According to the developer, the new update will go live on August 26th. I don’t know what time, so you’ll have to keep checking the link until you can get in. But once you’re in, I think you’ll like the newest themes and the new site design. Plus, you’ll get to maneuver through the themes and soundtracks via hotkeys this time. Just hold Alt or Option (depending on whether you’re using Windows or Mac), then press “S” for a new background, “F” for full screen (great for distraction-free writing), “L” for Dark Mode, and left or right arrows for switching music. And if you need to cancel anything (like full screen), just hit ESC. It’s pretty straightforward. Bear in mind that the developer also recommends that you use Chrome or Safari for best results.
And if you’re wondering, the latest themes are:
So, that’s Frost Writer 4.0 in a nutshell. Have you used it yet? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments below. You can also check out my hands-on preview in the following video.
As more writers eschew the mountainous path to publication via agents, editors, and traditional publishers, making wise decisions about self-publishing becomes not only more necessary than in times past, but vital if we want to compete with the million-dollar titans and their armies of production teams. And, yes, any one of us who has walked the level path around the mountain long enough has heard the cries for world-class quality by now. Fourteen years after the debut of Amazon’s Kindle e-reader, the message about moving from rushed amateurism to edited professionalism has become loud and clear.
But, if we take the cries for quality seriously, then why would we consider converting the reflowable text from a KDP e-book into a crappily formatted paperback edition? Wouldn’t we want those cries for professionalism to extend to all formats, from content to presentation?
If we care enough about our readers to give them a paperback or hardcover edition of our e-books, then we should also care enough to give them a quality copy of that paperback or hardcover edition. That means delivering the quality inside and out. And that means not skimping out on the tools that make such quality possible.
Now, for self-publishing writers who have no design or technical sensibilities, then outsourcing layouts and cover designs to a professional is the best bet. Common sense dictates this, even if the wallet screams for mercy.
But, what if the wallet is too thin? You want to get the book out to the public, but you’d also kinda like to eat a few nights this week. What then?
Well, there’s still hope. If you wrote your book on Microsoft Word or Scrivener (with Scrivener being the much cheaper yet more sensible writing tool for writers), then you could probably upload your document (MS Word) or converted document (Scrivener) directly to KDP, Draft2Digital, or whichever service you’re using to get your book out, and cross your fingers that it’s good enough. After all, maybe it is good enough. If you’ve spent any amount of time setting up sections in Microsoft Word, or establishing hyphenation rules as I’ve outlined in my 2016 article “The Art of Hyphenation,” then your .doc or .docx file may work well enough. It certainly would for a generic e-book, and there’s no reason for it not to work if your book is straightforward fiction with no special design considerations.
But what if your book is supposed to have fancy formatting? What if you want your chapter headings to have a cool shape embedded into the page behind them? Well, the good news is you can still do this. The bad news is that you can’t really do this in Microsoft Word. You’d need a special layout program for that. The worse news is that the most-used and best-known layout program for books (especially nonfiction) is Adobe InDesign, which if you know anything about InDesign, you’ll know that it’s from Adobe, the makers of needlessly expensive subscription software that has too few updates to justify the ridiculous pricing.
The better news is that Adobe isn’t the only company making software that self-published writers can use to better their products. The best news is that its strongest competitor does not require a subscription, and its buying price is very affordable.
Yes, I’m referring to Affinity Publisher, and if you’ve kept up with my blog or YouTube channel since April 2020, you’ll know I’m a fan of all things Affinity. In fact, I’ve used Affinity products (Designer, Photo, and Publisher) to redesign my paperback version of The Computer Nerd.
Now, maybe you’re happy with Microsoft Word and Microsoft Paint for your book design. I mean, if my book had this cover, it wouldn’t change a thing about the words inside.
And maybe that’s fine. But I don’t think anyone would buy a book that looked like that. And I don’t think they’d want a book that looked just as shoddy on the inside, either.
This means I have to consider what my readers want before constructing the paperback version, including what they may find aesthetically pleasing.
And this means upgrading my functional but basic Microsoft Word interior:
Into something more intentional, like what I can accomplish in Affinity Publisher:
Yes, after researching and practicing the self-publishing game for many years now, I’ve learned a few things about how to make a paperback worthy of seasoned readers. And now I’d like to pass them along.
Here are the considerations you might want to make before uploading your formatted document to KDP or some other distributor where readers might accidentally find you.
You probably already wrote your draft in MS Word, so preparing for readers is just a matter of uploading to KDP, Draft2Digital, or Smashwords, provided your document is formatted in a way that passes inspection.
Creating e-books in MS Word and uploading them to Amazon is really easy and intuitive. Even if you choose not to create a paperback edition, you can still create a functional e-book through minimal effort.
Converting text to PDF is also very easy. If you do base your paperback on your MS Word document, then you’ll want to first “Export to PDF,” as that will preserve your format.
Even though MS Word is not a formatting tool, it can still handle basic layouts appropriate for fiction, like headers or footers, section breaks to permit alternative headers and footers and page layouts, and page numbering within headers or footers.
Microsoft Word is not technically a formatting program, which means it can’t do complex formats, including those common to nonfiction, textbooks, and magazines.
Fixing a typo in a formatted Word document can throw off the layout for the entire book.
Because pages shift around so easily, wrecking pagination and other position-dependent sections of text or images is a constant headache. Be careful not to breathe on your text too hard.
Hyphenation and other typographic solutions are wonky at best.
Special formatting like embedding shapes or images behind text, or creating special designs for aesthetic effect is impossible.
How to Use Effectively:
Remember that everything from your title page (front) to your promotions for other books (back) will be part of the same document. To prevent insanity from taking over your layout, remember to set up your book by sections and be mindful of how right (recto) pages differ from left (verso) pages, as well as how both differ from first pages. And remember that these three page layouts are your only considerations throughout the section. If you need a new layout, then you need a new section.
Convert to PDF when you’re finished.
Don’t upload your PDF until you know you’re finished with it. Changing anything translates into hours’ worth of revision work.
Check out my article on hyphenation on how to handle the nuanced elements of formatting for paperback books in MS Word.
Inexpensive but powerful software that you need to buy just once!
Integrates well with its two companion software for images and designs, Photo and Designer.
Allows for custom layouts via “Master Pages” that you can apply to any page, eliminating the need for sections.
Because it’s a layout program, it allows you to arrange your text and images however you want, including through layers. This makes it possible to create fiction, nonfiction, textbooks, and magazines—whatever you want!
Basic formatting techniques like custom pagination, drop caps, and hyphenation is both simple and intuitive to use.
Making a change to the text while allowing the document to adapt is fairly simple.
If Photo or Designer is installed, you can edit images on the fly using the Studio Link feature.
Some repetitive tasks like starting a new chapter on a recto page a third of the way down can be handled automatically (with instruction).
Exports to PDF.
Still not quite as advanced as Adobe InDesign, especially when it comes to handling text outside of margins.
Just because it’s easier to format interiors in Publisher than it is in MS Word doesn’t mean it’s quicker. Revisions (if needed) go a lot faster, but the initial design can still take hours to accomplish.
No software is perfect. You’ll still need to review the entire document for extra pages added whenever you make changes that risk pushing the text down past the orphan line.
Creating and applying Master Pages can take some getting used to.
Not ideal for writing, just for formatting. Any additions or changes you make to the text should begin in your origin document.
Doesn’t allow for simultaneous bold/italics/underline enhancements to text, if you even need that kind of thing. Your font family of choice will need a version that simulates bold italics to get that effect.
Isn’t ideal for electronic formats. Only print.
How to Use Effectively:
Buy the dedicated workbook and keep it near your desk. When it comes time to design your book, refer to Chapter 5. Trust me, it’s all the advice and considerations you need. It’s what I used to remake the paperback edition of The Computer Nerd.
Can do most everything Affinity Publisher can do, except for using a Studio Link to swap in toolbars from its companion Photo or Designer apps (Photoshop and Illustrator respectively).
Can actually do more than what Affinity Publisher can do, like manage text and characters outside the margins (if I’m not mistaken).
How to Use Effectively:
For this, I defer to anyone who knows the program because I don’t. I know what it does, but I don’t know all that it can do because I don’t use it. I just know it’s powerful, if not complicated. But really, Affinity Publisher makes more sense if you’re interested in creating an excellent product for one low cost.
It’s capable of creating a formatted text for publication.
No one actually understands how to do this effectively.
Honestly, I love Scrivener as a writing and organization tool, but I have no interest in trying to turn it into a publication tool, even if Scrivener 3 tries to simplify it. Last time I investigated its formatting tools, my brain transformed into a pretzel. Wasn’t worth it to me. If I ever look into its formatting tools more seriously, I’ll revisit the topic. But honestly, a combination of MS Word and Affinity Publisher can accomplish everything I need to create a worthy paperback novel (or e-book).
Okay, it’s probably already installed on your computer.
Saves only in RGB format (making it horrible for print books).
Has limited features for special effects. To accomplish certain actions, you might need to use a plugin or another program entirely.
Doesn’t have access to LUTs, making color treating difficult.
Upgrades are annual and require a new payment to access (though these are still mostly affordable, especially if you wait for them to show up in a Humble Bundle).
Almost double the cost of the superior Affinity Photo (unless you wait for it in a Humble Bundle).
How to Use Effectively:
First of all, note that I do not recommend PaintShop Pro for designing paperbacks. You need the CYMK format to design print items effectively, and PSP cannot save or display in CYMK. For proof that it’s bad for print, look at the differences between my original paperback (PaintShop Pro 9) and my updated paperback (Affinity Photo) for The Computer Nerd.
That said, PaintShop Pro is still competent for electronic book cover or interior picture design (in RGB format), as long as you don’t need anything fancy.
Just remember to use layers and save in the native format before you export to JPG. This will come in handy if you need to make adjustments down the road.
(Affinity Photo and Designer)
Note: I’m including both software because you may need either a photo composition (Photo) or a vector composition (Designer) to create your covers.
One-time fee of $50 (when there are no sales).
Single purchase includes all future updates and upgrades (at least until Affinity releases a true successor).
Can handle layers, blends, masks, inpainting tools (for smart erasing), LUTs, and all the things you need to make an effective cover or composite (in both print and electronic forms).
Can save in CYMK, TIF, and other nonstandard formats (including PDF).
Integrates with Affinity Publisher for on-the-fly image editing.
Has useful workbooks and tutorials available.
Can integrate with useful app plugins like Luminar 4 and Painter ParticleShop.
Has a built-in plugin store for easily adding new brushes.
Has one of the best designer communities on the Internet (and YouTube).
Can mimic many of Photoshop’s special tricks, like using smart objects for mockup designs.
Directly incorporates stock photos from Pixabay, Pexels, and Unsplash (though you still need to check their licensing before using them in commercial works).
Still not quite as advanced as Photoshop.
Image filter designers rely heavily on Photoshop for designing their special tools, keeping Affinity Photo as an afterthought (though they still might work).
Even though it handles smart objects well, Affinity Photo still cannot replicate Photoshop’s “actions,” which renders many design tools useless.
It cannot yet handle objects designed for Lightroom.
How to Use Effectively:
Really, just do what I do: experiment, watch tutorials, study the workbook, and experiment some more.
LUTs, blends, and gradient tools are your friends.
Invest in stock photos, especially Depositphotos during Appsumo deals (in May and on Black Friday), to get the most of your image potential.
For more generic photos, including image filters, make use of the integration with Pixabay, Pexels, and Unsplash. Just remember to convert them to Raster.
If you’re designing a paperback, design for the front and back cover, not just the front.
Always start your composition in CYMK format if you expect to print it. Likewise, make sure to use “transparent background color” if you plan to use PNG images to prevent unwanted backgrounds.
(Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and Lightroom)
Note: I don’t use these programs, so my perspective is based on videos and research.
These are the top tools of the industry.
If it can be done, then these are the programs that can do it.
Every plugin and theme designer builds for them.
Finding instructions on how to use them for your specific use case is easy.
Requires an expensive monthly subscription to use.
Doesn’t get updated nearly often enough to justify the price.
How to Use Effectively:
See my note above. That said, any sophisticated photo or vector manipulation tool needs layers and masks to work well, so you should learn how to use those features.
Other Options and Conclusion:
Hopefully this article and these checklists will help you make a decision on how to approach your print books, or even your e-books if you wish to keep things simple. If you want to see a longer form explanation of how these differences look, then check out my companion video on the topic, released earlier this morning.
But, if you want to bypass all the potential pitfalls that come with formatting for e-books and paperbacks, you could invest in a tool designed exclusively for formatting. The top performer in the market right now is Vellum, which boasts “beautiful books,” although I’m not sure what its record for paperbacks is at the moment. I just know it’s well-revered as an e-book creation tool. If you check out any presentation on Vellum, you’ll soon agree that the books it produces are top of the line in design. But is that you’re only option? And is it even your best option?
But if you can’t wait for Atticus, just remember this:
Calibre is good for e-books only and works by converting your text to HTML (the native language of e-books), which you can then design as uniquely as you want, as long as you don’t have to make any drastic updates to your text after you’ve formatted it.
Kindle Create also designs e-books only, and provides just a handful of themes that may or may not be good for your book. It’s also limited in how it handles front and back matter. I think it also designs for Kindle only, which means you’re probably not going to get much out of it if you’re creating for other platforms. But on the positive side, it can create not only reflowable books like novels and memoirs, but it can also create textbooks and comics (early access feature, as of this writing).
The Reedsy Book Editing Tool is a bit friendlier when it comes to publication options (it creates both e-book and print editions), but it still struggles with front and back matter (or did the last time I tried using it). And like Kindle Create, its theme options are limited, if not too limited. That said, if you’re looking to go wide, this is your free tool of choice.
Note: Calibre, Kindle Create, and the Reedsy Book Editing Tool are all free to use, so it doesn’t hurt to give each one a try to see if they’re useful for you.
Lastly, Vellum is the big dog in the formatting space, and its purpose is to design not only the best looking interiors, but also the best organized books, which means boxsets are a specialty feature here. But it’s also expensive ($199 for e-books only or $249 for both e-book and print access), and it’s only available for Mac, which means many authors won’t get to use it even if they buy it (unless they want to spend even more money on a Mac emulator). Also, like all the other tools, it’s unfairly limited in its theme options. That’s actually authors’ number one complaint about it.
But if none of these options work for you, then consider why. Do you prefer to do things manually? If so, then I hope my checklist will inform your choices. But if you prefer using tools that do the formatting for you, but you just don’t like how limited the above options are, then get on the waiting list for Atticus. I can tell you right now that its theme options alone make it worth the wait. It’ll also be available for Windows, not just Mac. It will cost you some cash to own, but not nearly as much as Vellum. And, well, let’s just say there’s more to come.
Regardless of what you choose, though, I hope your publishing considerations go well. Even if you’ve designed an ugly book like I had back in 2015, you can still fix it. With the right tools.
An important part of building an author career is to track your marketing efforts against your sales and royalties. For some, this is a numbers utopia, full of such wondrous operators like plus signs and dollar symbols. For others, it’s the antithesis of using words to create a fake reality, creating instead the type of dread that only writers can fear: “Ah, numbers! Get them off of me!”
The good news for both camps is that using traditional spreadsheets like Microsoft Excel (superior) and Google Sheets (inferior) can save an author loads of headaches when the end-of-the-year financial reports are due to the accountants. As long as the author doesn’t mind spending the final week of the year cross-posting payment information and marketing bills from his bank to his spreadsheet, then this system works perfectly fine.
But the better news is that, for those who like simplicity and free time, there are apps available that you can access on the fly whenever you want a quick report on your daily, weekly, or monthly sales progress, as well as handy little CSV icons you can click to export that same information to a ready-made spreadsheet, perfect for that accountant you’d rather not talk to.
The decision on which apps to choose comes down to which platforms you want to track (like Amazon or Google Play), which information you want to collect, how frequently you plan to check, how much privacy you want as the app runs, and how much you’re willing to pay for the privilege of making your accountant’s life easier at the end of the year.
It also depends on whether you want just financial reports or if monitoring incoming reviews and ratings reports are important, too. Oh, and sweet graphics might also play a role. Both apps have that department covered pretty nicely.
In the above video, I discuss the pros and cons of using one popular reporting app that’s been an indie author favorite for several years, Book Report, and one up-and-comer with HUGE potential for usefulness and longevity in the market, and one that I’ve become an instant fan of the moment I heard about it, ScribeCount.
If you have time, check them both out and see if they can change the trajectory of your author career for the better. Likewise, if you’re not an author but you want to know what it’s like to become one professionally, and you’re curious whether it’s a life you want, then this also applies to you.
And don’t forget to leave a comment below if you have anything you’d like to add to the discussion.
Episodic fiction is hot right now. With The Falcon and the Winter Soldier wrapping up its six-episode run, thus completing yet another story arc for our beloved Marvel superheroes, and The Karate Kid getting its fifth series installment in the form of three seasons of television and counting (in Cobra Kai), and Stranger Things stirring up all sorts of speculation about the future of Hawkins, Indiana, it’s easy to see that telling stories in bite-sized chunks over a span of weeks, months, or even years is a great way to keep the fans fulfilled but hungry.
But has it always been the entertainment equivalent to potato chips dipped in powdered donuts?
For me, my addiction to television began as a child, watching primetime episodes of Diff’rent Strokes, Family Ties, The A-Team, Perfect Strangers, and Night Court (and plenty others), and continued well into my teen years, where I had the pleasure of watching Seinfeld, The Simpsons, Seinfeld, Married with Children, and Seinfeld (and later, reruns of The Simpsons and Seinfeld). But then I got to college and whisked it all away.
Television stopped being fun to watch.
Sure, there were good shows on in the late 1990s, but most of them were on channels I couldn’t afford or pick up on my antenna. Everything else I loved watching had already wrapped. And with college becoming my focus, I didn’t really see much reason to give television my attention. Besides, the movies were much better. By that point, we’d gotten the summer of 1996 and the year to end all movie years, 1999 (look it up; it was a titanic year, even though Titanic was released a little more than a year earlier). What even was television by that point?
Okay, in fairness, ER was in its prime, and Alias was giving Jennifer Garner a named status. And shows like Friends and Frasier were going strong. But I wasn’t watching any of those. Each episode was just more of the same (and Alias was on the channel my antenna couldn’t pick up).
It wasn’t until 24 in late 2001 that something sparked my interest. But even then, I was busy with other matters. As much as I liked 24, I kept thinking I’d just catch it later (or on DVD, which ended up being the situation).
Then came March 2005 and the grand entrance of Steve Carell and The Office, and that was the end of my television fast. It just took two episodes to wrangle me back into a television habit that lasted for the next twelve years (and included weekly viewings of 24, beginning with the stellar Season 5, Parks and Recreation, and my new favorite, Community).
And though many of these shows maintained the old habit of introducing familiar characters to new situations without much memory of the previous episode, the seeds of serial fiction were embedded. The Office introduced “Jim and Pam” in a hopeless romantic subplot that spanned three seasons and didn’t truly reach its height until early Season 6. 24 boarded a rocket ship every season and rode it to the finale, keeping viewers invested in a single 24-part story arc, and residents of Los Angeles worried what was about to happen every time the clock hit 59 minutes on the hour (but only on bad days).
These shows each proved one thing: a good season of television is enough to keep viewers on the hook for another round, and to get a good season, television needs to come with great episodes. And unlike the chapters of a novel, these episodes can live independently of each other, but like a compelling novel, each episode must contain its own completed arc while serving the needs of the greater story.
It’s a puzzling juggling act. But it’s nevertheless important to keep the balls in the air. (Insert a Michael Scott catchphrase here.)
To get it right is a challenge and a reward.
And Amazon is rolling out a new service that gives authors an opportunity to get it right.
If you haven’t heard of Kindle Vella yet, well now you have. It’s Amazon’s entrance into the browser-based episodic fiction market (like Wattpad), using their massive platform to create an experience that combines Wattpad with Medium. Its goal is to entertain readers with the gift of storytelling, one episode at a time (with episodes ranging from 600-5,000 words each), but to do so behind a paywall so that authors can earn cash for their sweet and precious words.
Well, the requirements for entry are steep. In short, all stories posted to the platform must be original. That means never-before-published. And if there’s one thing Amazon is good at, it’s stalking the entire Internet and library database and your third grade teacher’s manila folder (that she left under the couch that one time she tried catching her cat on shots day) for your story. And THEY WILL FIND IT. So, keep it original.
They’re also available in the United States only, but that’s probably temporary.
For my part, I’ve started adapting my game Entrepreneur: The Beginning into an episodic novel, and will be posting new episodes every Friday, under the title The Hybrid City Entrepreneur. But because Vella won’t officially open to the public until sometime this summer, I’ve got time to frontload it with content. And that’s important because the first three episodes of every story will be free. It isn’t until Episode 4 of any story that readers will have to shell out their precious tokens (the currency of Vella) to unlock what’s next and find out what’s really eating Gilbert Grape.
Okay, yeah, I absolutely broke out the antiquated movie reference. And I don’t care. We’re not writing movies in Vella. We’re writing television, dangit! Well, except that we’re not even doing that. It’s the structure that counts here.
If you want to see how to get onto Vella, check out my video below. And if you want to find out more, I recommend Kindlepreneur’s and Reedsy’s articles on the topic.
If you decide to give it a try, make sure you let us know in the comments. (But don’t post samples. Again, Amazon is always watching. Always.)
I’ve been using this free WordPress.com blog as my online author site for years. As you can imagine, the conversion toward book sales hasn’t been great. But now I’m finally making a move to improve my online presence and build a better book shop. This video highlights my progress from Black Friday (when all I had was hosting and a newsletter) to mid-December (what I show in the video).
It’s definitely got room to grow and improve. Some of my ideas may not work. Other, more efficient ideas may come along during future development sessions. Time will tell. But this is the beginning. This is what it looks like behind the scenes at my new author site as of today.
Here are my resources if you like what I’m doing and want to do something similar:
So, that’s what I have so far. Tell me in the comments below if you have any website development advice or want to share your experience with these or other themes like Elementor.
I hope to open my new site in early 2021, but you can become one of the first to enter by signing up for my newsletter and looking for my announcement. (You also get free stuff for signing up, if you’re in to that kind of thing.)
Do you ever sit down to write and think, “I’m off to a bad start”? Well, I’m having one of those moments right now. But never fear, for MasterWriter is here!
Except that MasterWriter doesn’t exactly help me start.
Okay, well, what does it do then?
It’s actually more brilliant than that, even though an app that helps you start a project is just as cool as anything that helps you improve a project. But helping you improve is precisely what MasterWriter does.
Think of it as stripping out all the grammar from Grammarly or ProWritingAid, leaving behind just the thesaurus. And think of it as stripping out everything from Scrivener but the name generator and manuscript page (and stripping out the actual name generation but keeping the name list). And if you reduce Google down to the search term “rhymes with Google,” then you begin to understand what MasterWriter is about.
It’s an all-purpose vocabulary tool that can turn your average writing into interesting writing. For example, if I write the line “I like pigeons” and think “like” is too simple of an idea, then I could use MasterWriter to find a better word. But because I could just as easily use a thesaurus, or Google, I might decide that using MasterWriter for this task at all might be overkill.
And it very well may be…
But is it though?
Well, here’s a simple Google search for “like”:
And here’s what “People Also Ask” about it:
You’ll see that Google gives me a few decent options. And I could probably use at least one of these options to replace my above example. But does it give me enough? More importantly, does it give me all options?
Here’s the same query in MasterWriter (under the synonyms tab):
Now here’s the same query in MasterWriter’s word families, “primary” selection:
And finally, here it is under word families, “extended” selection:
So, as we can see, by looking up “like” in MasterWriter’s extended word family, I can change my boring sentence “I like pigeons” into the far more interesting “I drink in pigeons.”
And…okay, maybe that’s too much. How about:
“I flip for pigeons.”
Yeah, I like that better.
What about you?
So, that’s what MasterWriter is about. It’s not a traditional writing app (although it does give you the ability to write your selection inside the program), but it is an app perfect for perfectionists who have to get their words just right.
And it also includes sections for rhymes, alliteration, onomatopoeia, and other word types for poets and songwriters (and regular writers for those who like those speech types), as well as names of historical figures, places, famous cartoon characters, you name it, all with an integration to look them up on Wikipedia from directly within the app.
Which means it can still feed you ideas when you’re drawing up short of them.
So, the question becomes whether it’s worth the money because there is a cost. For monthly subscriptions, you’ll spend $9.99 a month. For annual, $99.99 a year. And for two years, $149.99. But if you sign up to their newsletter, or check back during major sales holidays like Black Friday, you’re likely to get a steep discount of up to 50% off (which is why I’m paying just $7.99 a month for my subscription). But is it worth even the $74.99 you’d pay for a biannual subscription during Black Friday?
This is where I’d issue the standard review response: “It depends.”
I’ve had my eye on MasterWriter for years. Because this is the year I’ve decided to up my game in every category from craft to marketing, I decided to add it to my list, even though I’m way over my budget. I’ve been writing for years, and I’m at a point where I want to elevate my resources.
And this is definitely an elevation.
But is it worth the subscription fee? Honestly, if not for the extended word families, I’d say no. Most of what MasterWriter offers, I can easily get in a Google search. For free.
But the extended word families feature changes the game. If you look at the screenshots, you’ll find examples that aren’t easy to come by anywhere else. Is it possible to find a list like the one in the screenshot somewhere other than in MasterWriter. Maybe. But the thing I know for certain is that MasterWriter has that list. So now I have that list.
If you’re a new writer, I’d say learn your craft first. And keep reading. You can improve your vocabulary just by reading books. But the point of MasterWriter is not just to improve your vocabulary but to also access the words or phrases on the tip of your tongue more quickly, and if you want to elevate your vocabulary and save time (because you can sound like a genius on the fly), then MasterWriter is definitely for you. If you can afford it. It’s not cheap. Not really.
And if you can’t afford it, don’t sweat it. Wait until you can. You don’t need it today. Someday, maybe. But today, not necessarily. I held off for three years, and now that I have it, I’m sure I could’ve held off for three more.
It does have a pretty sweet audio stream—
Oh, never mind. It’s just a place to record your thoughts or import your sound files off your hard drive. If Audacity isn’t good enough…
I guess they can’t all be like Frost Writer.
Anyway, tell me what you think in the comments below. You can also check out my video demonstration on my YouTube page below.
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Do you find yourself getting overwhelmed by the bells and whistles that Microsoft Word, Scrivener, or other countless writing apps throw at your feet? Do you wish there was a writing app out there that could strip away the distractions and just put you in the mood for writing? Do you wish that such an app was available to you for free?
Well, it’s a website that can store your writing in the cloud. All you do is show up, pick your theme, select a music track if you want background ambience, then get to writing. There’s even an option to save your work as a text file to your Downloads page if you want to transfer your work to another app for formatting once you’re finished or want to start a new project in the same theme.
It’s really as simple as that.
But what it can’t do is store your entire project in any meaningful way, or retain formatting of any kind, at least not as recently as version 3.0. Therefore, my advice is do your distraction-free scene or section writing in Frost, save to your drive (via text file) once you’re done with your current session, then open your note in MS Word or whatever formatting/editing tool you use for revision and storage, make your quick edits to retain your style and/or emphases (italics, bold, etc.) while you’re thinking about them, then go back to Frost, delete the session, and start over again with the next scene or idea.
Or, maybe just copy/paste your Frost writing to your MS Word document or whatever you use for formatting, since saving to a text file will also eliminate your paragraphs, which you probably won’t want to do. You could save to the text file as a backup or if you’re using Frost only to write your tweets before sending them.
It may not be the most efficient way to manage your work, but it’s a darn good way to make sure the work gets done. The music that comes packaged with Frost Writer will get you in the mood every time. Even if you write in your app of choice but leave Frost’s soundtrack on in the background, you can still get in the mood. However, the advantage of writing inside of Frost is you get to use its specialized thematic backgrounds to keep you in the mood. Are you writing a historical novel and need to write directly on the vellum page? Then Frost Writer’s “Vintage” theme is your choice. Or are you crafting your romantic scene and you’re about as romantic as a tree stump? Then select the “Love” theme and discover your attractive side with the pastel shades and romantic comedy score that makes you forget just how bad you are at romance.
I mean, if it works for me…
There’s even an RPG theme called “Room” that gives you a study room background and your choice of four individual or combined sound effects: coffeehouse background, grandfather clock, thunderstorm, and fireplace. Pick one, or pick them all. The choice is yours.
But Frost Writer isn’t the only free app available to those of you who want to write or study in the mood. There’s also a program called Virtual Cottage that you can find on the gaming sites Steam and Itch.io.*
Virtual Cottage is not like Frost Writer. There’s no writing involved here. It’s strictly a background program that sets a timer and plays music while you study, read, do the laundry, or whatever you’re doing that you’d normally find boring or otherwise unappealing. Once the timer expires, it plays a sound effect, telling you it’s time to stop (provided you check the box, which I forgot to do for the screenshot).
The nice thing about Virtual Cottage is that you set the parameters and make yourself accountable to them. Do you want to read for 20 minutes? Then say so on the project page, adjust your timer, and hit “Start.” Don’t stop until the timer rings. Do you want to study during a rainstorm? Then select the atmosphere button and listen to the pitter-patter of raindrops as you hit the books. Do you want 90 minutes of uninterrupted chill music (or is it 15—I can’t remember now) while you organize your filing cabinet? Then click the music note and submerge yourself into that sweet coffeehouse vibe.
And you can do it all for free.
At the end of the day, isn’t that what you really want in a productivity app?
Let me know in the comments below if you’ve used these apps and how they’ve helped you improve your productivity.
Oh, and if you want to see these in action, I’ve featured them in this week’s video review. Check it out.
As always, like and subscribe below. And if you want to stay up-to-date with all of my latest articles, videos, books, and so on, please join my new newsletter, available now. And don’t forget that my official author site will be live to the public soon.
Thanks for reading.
*To run games and apps on Steam, you need to first download and install the Steam App. Consult the header on its store page for more information on how to do that.
A few years ago, when I started researching why my books weren’t selling, I encountered a common marketing message from every expert, guru, and wannabe (often three of the same thing, but I digress). “Get an email list!” they’d all say. They’d say it no matter what my business. Then I’d check the going rate for an email list, and I’d get tenser than a palm tree.
Sure, there are free tiers for some of them, you know, to get you started. Those free tiers usually have limited functions and low contact thresholds (most allow up to 1000 free contacts before the paid plans kick in, but some are even less). And when the paid tiers activate, the monthly costs begin to rise, and rise, and rise, bwahaha!
All the while you hope that your contacts are actually getting your email.
These were my concerns for years, and having hardly any budget available for experimenting with a mailing provider that might meet my needs before the losses are too great to continue (because ROI takes time), I just couldn’t take the risk.
SendFox is simple. It strips out many of the bells and whistles that makes email marketing confusing to newer users. This has its disadvantages, of course: Older mailing companies have turned email marketing into a science and a sport. But SendFox focuses on newsletters and content creation, or the art of getting and keeping readers. This means that its success depends on your success. So it keeps things simple. And it also boast a high delivery rate as a result.
It also considers your wallet and ROI way more than any other provider I’ve researched. Where all providers require monthly subscriptions to keep their services and your audiences, SendFox offers tiered lifetimes plans where one payment of X amount will earn you the lifetime right to email up to Y audience sizes (in the thousands, up to 25,000). If you’re like me and hate the idea of spending hundreds, if not thousands of dollars a year to maintain a list of people who might not even get your message (like Facebook!), then give SendFox a look.
The good news is that by signing up using any link in this article during SendFox’s Black Friday sale, you can add an extra 200 contacts to my subscriber limit, and if you sign up and tell all your friends, you can get that 200 contact per referral bonus, too. And then they can get it, and then their friends can get it, and we can take over the world, and…
Okay, yes, this is beginning to sound like a scheme of some sort…
But the best kind of scheme!
Anyway, I’ll talk more about my email list and how to join it in another article. I don’t yet have any of my subscriber bonuses in place, nor am I sending out any content yet, so I’ll come back with newsletter news once it becomes more relevant.
But until then…
Once again, you can check out SendFox here to see if it meets your needs, and if you happen to join before the Black Friday countdown clock expires, you’ll automatically reward me with a 200-contact limit boost on my own contacts. And for that, I thank you. But even if you sign on later, it’s worth it. The monthly plans don’t kick in until you cross a high threshold. They also have something called Empire for $10 a month if you need extra flexibility, but that can be for any tier. Just and FYI.
Hope you’ll check it out. And leave a comment about how much you like SendFox (or not) below.
If you’re writing a novel for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short, then you probably should’ve started already. But if you’re still warming up to the idea, or if you just want to use November as a warm-up month and go for the main event in December (because why do you need a month to tell you what to do?), then you’ll probably want to start planning for it.
Unless you’re a discovery writer (or organic, or pantser, or whatever your label of choice—it’s all the same), which is perfectly fine, you may want a plotting tool to help you prepare.
Have you heard of Plottr yet? I’ve probably mentioned it on this blog already, but in case I haven’t, it works like this:
You “create a book” on a series page, give it a title, tagline, short synopsis, and series number (standalones get “1” as their number), and if you have cover art finished, you can attach it to a 3D mockup. Then you click on the book you want to work on and enter the construction zone (my term, not theirs).
Inside the construction zone, you can begin planning your book by creating a timeline, list of characters and places, and establishing keywords to mark important metadata.
Sounds simple and basic, right?
That’s kind of the point. It’s simple. But hardly basic.
Once you enter the timeline, you can create plots and subplots, establish chapters and scenes within those chapters, character arcs, etc., but you can also color code everything, insert characters and places inside the scene cards (while also describing them), and tag to your heart’s content.
And best of all, you can import premade templates from some of your favorite story structure devices, including the Hero’s Journey, Save the Cat!, and most recently, the Snowflake Method. In fact, you can also import your existing Snowflake Pro file directly into Plottr (as of October 23rd). So, if you’d rather use an established method over your own, you have plenty to choose from (at least a dozen different structure and beat types).
For creating characters, you can import a template or create (and save) your own. For places, you can do the same. For items…well, that part isn’t available yet, but Plottr is adding new features all the time, so I’d expect to see that available soon enough. You can actually see their active roadmap here, as well as post your own suggestions.
But since this is a review, I think it’s fair to list some of its problems:
It’s still a work-in-progress, so it’s missing some options that are sorely needed, including custom sorting inside of character and place menus, as well as the ability to update your existing template with new entries without having to create a new template (and forgetting which version number you’re saving to now). It doesn’t have features for tracking items, nor does it prepopulate with expected tags like “inciting incident” or “main character” or any of the elements that most writers would like to have available. And, well, it’s an outlining tool, not a writing tool, so you’ll still need another program to do the actual writing.
But it does have an interactive timeline with adjustable boxes, and that’s probably all you really need, especially if you’re coming from other story development software that maybe don’t have as good or intuitive of a timeline feature. It doesn’t track actual time, though, but I think it’s coming, maybe (check the roadmap to be sure). It also has an outline view that you can export to your preferred writing app, as long as it’s Microsoft Word or Scrivener, so you don’t have to worry about switching back and forth as you write.
And don’t forget to check out Plottr’s templates if you give it a try. The premade templates are there to increase its value and usefulness, and I highly recommend you look into them if you’re not sure how to start.
Finally, there is a 30-day trial available, and if you do commit to the purchase (and you should because it’s my favorite story developing app so far), it’s just $25 for the program and a year of free updates ($37 if you want Windows and Mac access). You’ll have to renew that fee after the first year to keep getting updates, but you’re not required to buy it a second time to keep using it. If you’re happy with its functionality by the end of your subscription period, you can keep using that version indefinitely.
So, there’s no reason not to give it a try, unless you’re really, really broke. And if that’s your situation, I hope it gets better soon.
Also, if you want a video demonstration of Plottr, you can check out its tutorials on Plottr’s website (recommended) or my review on my YouTube channel (also recommended).
Don’t forget to like, subscribe, and comment below if this article has helped you, entertained you, or kept you from starting your honey-do list.
P.S. I may be uploading some of my own character and place attributes templates here soon.
Remember the days when hunters would sit around a campfire inside a cave and tell each other ghost stories while waiting for the bears to leave camp? Yeah, me neither. But the good people at Campfire Technology haven’t forgotten. In fact, they’ve created not one, but two writing apps that can help recreate that lost storytelling moment, in a manner of speaking.
Okay, they’ve actually created one, Campfire Pro, then used it as a template to create the other, Campfire Blaze. But both apps, which are basically desktop and cloud versions of the same tool, can do a lot for your story planning. Probably more than most, actually.
And that’s why they’re worth a look.
But what can they do? How do they differ? Why are they worth it? I’ll highlight their key points below.
What They Do:
Both apps allow the user to create a vision board of attributes for:
What They Don’t Do:
Bring Order to Chaos*
*This is my snarky way of saying that the interface for both applications is quite messy and may require some handholding via their instruction manuals before diving in.
How They Differ:
Both apps do more or less the same things, but:
Campfire Pro is desktop only
Campfire Pro is legacy software, meaning it won’t receive new updates beyond bug fixes
Campfire Pro has a one-time charge of $50, plus $25 for the world-building pack should you want it (and you do)
Campfire Blaze adds a writing tool (so you can actually write your novel)
Campfire Blaze is module-based, meaning you only pay for what you’ll use
Campfire Blaze works in the cloud, so you can use it anywhere
Campfire Blaze has team and spectator modes for collabs
Campfire Blaze has a nice overview screen for progress reports
Campfire Blaze is subscription-based, with the option for a lifetime purchase (at the three-year price point)
I’m sure I’m leaving things out, but it’s worth taking a look at what each app has to offer. You can check them both out at Campfire Technology.
My Thoughts about Whether They’re Worth It:
I like what both apps bring to the table. Even though Campfire Pro is made strictly for story planning and world building, the amount of elements it allows you to customize or develop is practically unrivaled among all other writing apps, with its only worthy competitors being its successor, Campfire Blaze, and probably World Anvil, which I have not personally tried but hear is quite robust as a world builder.
Campfire Blaze takes everything that Campfire Pro can do and makes it better, especially the character and location builders. For example, Campfire Pro has four default categories for developing characters. You can add more, but it comes with four. Campfire Blaze comes with a complete flowchart of attributes, probably as many as a hundred, that you can select and populate, then answer inside of the resultant fields. It’s crazy in a good way. Most everything that Campfire Pro does competently, Campfire Blaze tries to improve on, especially in the user interface.
Except with timelines.
Timelines in Campfire Pro are tricky to navigate.
Timelines in Campfire Blaze are ridiculous and the kinds of things the Codebreakers of WWII would’ve had trouble figuring out.
I don’t like it.
Not at all.
That’s my main gripe with either Campfire program, but especially with Campfire Blaze.
Now, it should be mentioned that Campfire Pro is a legacy program, so it won’t get any new additions or updates. Campfire Blaze is essentially its successor, so any new features that Campfire Anything gets, it’ll go to Blaze. So, if you’re interested in either program, you’ll probably want Blaze, but you’ll also want to preview the instructions to make sure you understand how to use it. As far as user learning curves go, Campfire Pro and Blaze sit below Scrivener, but stand above most everything else on the market. Neither one is particularly easy to use, and unless your imagination is wild, I can’t imagine you jumping in without feeling a little overwhelmed by their available options. But if you want a program that really goes above and beyond the norm, I don’t think you’d do wrong with either Pro or Blaze. The choice comes down to how much you’re willing to spend.
Note: Campfire’s selling point above other apps is its world-building features. If you’re in the market for a story development tool but just want one, you should really take a look at its world-building tools before committing to a purchase of any writing app. It may be the game-changer you’re looking for.
Note 2: Because Campfire Blaze is coming out of beta as of this writing, it will still have a few missing or unfinished features (including the research and writing modules). The open beta will be ongoing until the end of October, so there’s still time to check it out for free. If you buy Campfire Pro before Blaze officially launches in November, you’ll also get three months of Blaze free and one module of your choice permanently free (I’d go with the character designer personally). If you already own Campfire Pro, then you’ll get a free module for however many years you’ve had it (so, one module for 2020, two for 2019, and three for 2018).
Note 3: Campfire sometimes has affiliate deals with ProWritingAid and other writer resources for deep discounts. You just have to be subscribed their newsletters to get the offer. You should sign up for any newsletter you can in the indie writer space so you don’t miss anything.