Five Useful Online Tools

Building an audience while still writing your manuscript(s) can be a tricky business. You either get noticed right away or it takes a long time. There always seems to be that one little niche that’s more popular than others, but don’t think that just because you haven’t grabbed readers’ attention right away that it’s never going to happen. This is where that “patience is a virtue” thing comes into play.

Ever since I was a kid, reading on the playground while others around me socialized (yep, I was that kid sitting along the fence, the school building’s wall, or against a tree in the woods with a book), I’ve never been one to go with the flow. My mom knew it would take time for me to come out of my shell, despite my teacher’s concerns that I was “spending all my time reading.” And look, mom was right.

Now, as a 33 year old adult, I’m learning to find what works best for my writing ability in the midst of all the noise of publishing. It doesn’t matter if you’re self publishing or going the traditional route: there is a LOT to learn and a lot more to decide if it’s right for you or not. 

In everything I do I strive for simplicity. Simplicity in what I own. Simplicity in what I use. Simplicity in how I explain things to folks I cater to at work and when I write. Who truly cares about doing this, that or the other thing? Set your own expectations, discover a program or two you love to use and go with it. So below I’m going to merely suggest, in no particular order, Five Useful Online Tools that have helped me along the way. Perhaps you’ll find them useful as well!

1. Google Docs

Finding the right word processing system to write your story with can be one of the hardest things to do. I found that it was. For years I used Microsoft Word, which is still the standard. Then you have Apple’s Pages system for MAC users. Add to that the now defunct (I think) Open Office and a plethora of others who tried to beat out the Big Two. There are dozens of other programs out there built specifically for manuscript writing and book building. A website called First Manuscript has a fantastic blog post on the Best Novel Writing Software by Dax MacGregor that’s worth a read. The problem with some of the items mentioned is, depending on the type of laptop or desktop you are using, they may not be compatible to even download and test it out. 

That’s my conundrum. I don’t have years of writing & publishing experience under my belt, so, for now, Google Docs works best for my needs. I can still add notes, check my word count and format the document into MS submission format. The bare necessities. While I do appreciate what I can do for me, there are a few things I wish Google would fix: (1) document load time – gets a bit sluggish the longer the doc. becomes, and (2) word count without having to use a shortcut or menu to view it.

I suppose I can always break back out my desktop computer, have Microsoft install over two years’ worth of updates and try some of the other programs out in the aforementioned blog. But it’s Christmas. That’s too much work…

2. WordPress

I’ve used WordPress for years. I tried out Wix some time ago but found it super slow and a bit buggy. I used it to set up and maintain my church’s website, and now I use it to host this site for my writing. Just like with anything else mentioned on this list, there is a slight learning curve when it comes to developing something others will see. WordPress also recently updated their interface so I’m having to learn things again myself.

WordPress also provides web hosting. While you can, of course, have a completely free site, build it with free templates and the like, I found my OCD was flaring up every time I saw my site’s name with the after it. So I bought my domain and I’m still a happy camper. 

Not only do they do web hosting, their customer service is fantastic as well. They’ve troubleshot me through fixing bugs, formatting how I want my site to look, and more. I swear, this post is not an ad for them. I just like giving credit where credit is certainly due. So if you’re looking for an inexpensive web host, give WordPress a try!

3. BeFunky

Along with web hosting comes a plethora of photo editing and graphic design software you can use to add personal touches to your site (if you so choose to). You can always use stock images your host provides, but there is always the risk of running into copyright issues if you do a web search for other things.

That’s why I choose to create my own graphics using as much as my own photography as I can. I use the free version of BeFunky. I suppose I could purchase a monthly subscription to be able to use more of the options but I have yet to bite that bullet. I’ve been able to avoid it so far, though I have been considering it for quite some time. You can always go even bigger with Adobe Photoshop, but I am not that skilled in the graphic design realm. I’ve created graphics for church, other people and myself. It’s one of those “guilty pleasure” kind of things I don’t mind taking a break from my manuscript to do.

4. Twitter

Networking. What do you think of when you see that word? Perhaps you think of something like this scene from Ugly Betty:

Sure, there are times when this is applicable. Maybe not the lying part of it (because that always come back to bite you in the butt later), but it’s what I’m learning about becoming a writer. While networking isn’t exactly critical, you can get connected to other writers, literary agents and agencies through social networking.

Social networking still takes common sense. Don’t be that writer who DM’s (direct message) their info to said agents. Many, if not all of them, have websites or use a site like Query Tracker for manuscript submissions. I’ve seen many Tweets where folks automatically block folks who don’t follow those guidelines. Might seem rude, I know. But imagine being an agent who just wants to have a silly conversation and is constantly being sent unsolicited items. If they want to know you, they’ll seek that information out themselves. It may very well work in your favor in the future

Along with all that common sense stuff, there are numerous hashtags many writers use to promote, query and connect. I have this page bookmarked, 85 Hashtags Writers Need to Know, to refer back to for ideas. I only use maybe 3-5 of the suggested tags in the link. Find what works for you and have at it!

I only use maybe 3-5 of the suggested tags in the link. Find what work for you and have at it!

5. Pacemaker

Pacemaker is something new I’ve added to my writing routine. The idea for this project came to me back in 2016, but I wish I knew exactly when I started writing it. There’s something called “NaNoWriMo,” or National Novel Writing Month, which encourages authors to reach certain word count goals throughout the month of November. I didn’t start working on The Firedamp Chronicles until December, but that concept seemed just too stressful for my writing needs. So I refused to track anything, or set goals for myself.

Two years later (it’s now December 2018), through several rounds of development, writing and editing, I wish that I had. So I searched up a word count tracker to help me keep myself accountable for the time I spend actually writing versus the time I spend procrastinating. From apps on your phone to websites on your tech there are dozens of options. I liked the simplicity of Pacemaker once I saw the interface. Of course there are other functions you can pay for, but the free option works just as well.

Not all interfaces are created equally. If you’re looking for a program like this, choose one that’s right for you!

The moral of the story is:

There’s lots of noise out there. Lots of things to distract you from the core of what you’re doing: writing your story. Everyone can suggest all the things in the world, but find what works for you. You can either stick with the same system and routines or mix ’em up to keep yourself on your toes. Feel free to check out any of the above tools and happy writing!

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Budding #historian. Writer of #adventures and #sciencefantasy. Lover of mushrooms and libraries. Fan of #chocolate, #books and Pennsylvania history.

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