Tools and Tech I Use that You Might Find Useful, Part 2

Today I’m looking at tech tools I use almost every day, continuing on from last week when I looked at the tools I have open on my desk every day.


Actually, I think I use BookFunnel every day, too.  There might be a few days here and there when I’m not in the dashboard, but they would be few.

BookFunnel bill themselves as “Essential Tools for Authors” and they are.  There are other subscriptions and services I would give up before giving up my BookFunnel subscription.  But it’s hard to give them a simple definition.  They got into the business as a downloading and fulfillment service, and that is still the core of their features.  But what made me sign up is that they specialize as a help-desk, walking readers through how to download their books and get them onto their readers.

Without BookFunnel, you are your readers’ help desk.  From experience, I know that readers can range from absolutely tech-phobic and ignorant about all things electronic, all the way up to knowing way more than me about the acquisition, conversion and reading of their books.

Before BookFunnel came along, I spent hours each week, painfully trying to walk readers through the process of getting their books onto their eReaders.  I almost cheered when BookFunnel started up.  I’ve been with them from nearly the first day they started business.  (They started in late 2015, and I joined in early 2016.) We now have a publisher account and it’s worth every penny.

I also use BookFunnel as a fulfillment service for books we sell directly from the site.  As BookFunnel handles pre-orders and audiobooks, it’s perfect for direct sales.  I’ve had readers email me and thank me for using BookFunnel, as they are familiar with the service, and know exactly how to handle downloads via BookFunnel.

I also use their two promotion services:  Collaborative promotions and author newsletter swaps.  The latter is very new and still figuring itself out, but book promos (both sales and giveaways) I use very heavily to promote all the books on SRP—dozens of promos a month.

BookFunnel is also a great way to give someone a book.  You can send them a download link, or drop the book into their BookFunnel library.  It saves messy file attachments, and keeps the book where the reader can find it later.  And again…if that reader can’t figure out side-loading, BookFunnel is right there to help them.

I use BookFunnel to send out ARCs to my Street Team.  Each ARC is watermarked and stamped with a serial number, and downloads are tracked. 


Story Origin is a similar service to BookFunnel’s promos.  I don’t know of any other service that provides the fulfillment and tech help desk service that BookFunnel does.


An author site is essential for indies.  I would go out on a limb and suggest that authors are cutting their own throats if they don’t have one.  I have seven, between publishing sites, this site, and author pen name sites.  I run all of them using WordPress, because it’s much more than blogging software, these days.  It lets me build sites without having to use code.

I used to build sites using HTML and some expensive WYSIWYG applications, but it was still clunky as hell and required uploading every time you made a change.  Plus, I had to build the “look” of the site from scratch.

WordPress has themes, and if you’re using the self-hosted application, you can enhance the site with plug-ins that do everything.  On Stories Rule Press, I combine WordPress with the WooCommerce shopping cart plugin to sell direct to readers.


Wix and Weebly are two alternative site building applications that some authors swear by.  I’ve never tried them, because I’ve been using WordPress for so long and I’m very happy with it.


In the earlier versions of this post, I talked about loving Wikipedia for quick fact-checking.  I’m still using Wikipedia on a near-daily basis.  I used to donate annually.  I’m now considering moving to the new monthly donation plan. 


Encyclopedia Britannica is the closest equivalent and many people will point out that its accuracy is near flawless.  But content is years behind today, and not nearly as extended as Wikipedia. 

Image editor

Imagine this in Dr. McCoy’s cranky voice: “Dammit, Jim, I’m an author, not a digital artist!”

Yet, as an indie author, I am frequently required to manipulate images – resizing book covers, head shots, and building mockups.  For websites, I need to build graphics, banners, buy buttons, favicons… 

I started off using free stuff.  I’ve played around with Canva (which I list as an alternative).  For the longest time I used the open-source GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program).  It did everything I needed it to do.  But later versions became difficult to use and very unintuitive. 

When I got into building mockups, I took a free 30 day trial of Adobe Photoshop, because the pre-built mockups were provided in PSD files.  It took me less than a day to figure out I needed Photoshop.  It’s the industry standard and does everything you need…and does it in simple steps. 

Plus there’s a tutorial for everything, somewhere on the web, often as a video showing you step by step, which is great if digital art isn’t your first profession.

Because I have Photoshop, I’ve also built a few book covers of my own, for reader magnets and short fiction put up on the sites, but not published on retail sites.  I wouldn’t have had the courage to tackle DIY book covers without Photoshop.

I pay a monthly subscription for mine, as part of the Creative Cloud suite of programs offered by Adobe. Even though I don’t use the program every day, I’m glad to have it when I need it.


I’ve mentioned Canva, and GIMP.  There are always new image applications popping up.  If you’re seriously not interested in using Photoshop, ask authors for recommendations. 

PDF Creator & reader.

I used to pay expensive license fees for Adobe Acrobat, which was the first and original PDF creator.  Six months later, a new version would come out, with a new, more expensive license fee.  In addition, Acrobat is a resource-hog, and it doesn’t render emails properly.  As I have to keep transactional emails for tax purposes, Acrobat had to go.

In 2015, I switched to the pay-for component of PDF Forge’s PDF Creator software, which will create a PDF, give it a temp file name and store it in a nominated folder on my hard drive (backed up to the cloud), with one click. 

But many programs these days, including Microsoft Office (excluding Outlook, dammit), will print or create PDFs inside the program.  You might find you don’t need a PDF creation program at all.


Adobe Acrobat DC is the original, but not necessarily the best.  There are others, and a Google search will pop them up.  There are free, open-source and pay-for, but if you need PDFs for legal or tax purposes, don’t settle for less than you need.


There are open source ebook formatting programs available.  I tried a few of them and didn’t like having to copy and paste pages at a time.  Jutoh lets me import the entire Word master file of the book and sorts it out from there.  It makes very clean ePubs and Mobi files, and I’ve never had an ebook fail whatever quality checks all the distribution platforms use.  It’s also very fast. I can go from (clean, CSS formatted) Word file to ePub and Mobi files in about five minutes.


I’m a PC girl, but if you’re a dedicated Apple user, then you may want to invest in Vellum, instead.  It is IOS only, which is why I haven’t picked it up.  It’s pricey, though!

The newest kid on the block, one I’m monitoring closely, is Atticus, which looks very promising.  The only drawback with Atticus is that it will not export to Mobi.  Mobi, alas, is a required format for readers who read on Kindle devices.  Even though indies upload ePubs to Amazon, these days, your ARCs, downloads and direct sales have to offer Mobi to Kindle readers.  Atticus’s site says that Mobi exporting is an upcoming feature. 


This backup service has saved my ass multiple times in the ten years I’ve been using it.  You download, click install…and that’s it.  The program silently backs up *everything*.  I forget it’s there, until I have a hard drive crash, or other disaster, then I can go back and download a zip file of the files I want back.  It’s so efficient and so effective at staying out of the way and doing its job that I nearly forgot to mention it here.  I no longer sweat about what a disaster it would be if a hard drive fails (happens too often to ignore) or if the house imploded and my computer was lost….

You can also set up BackBlaze, so if your laptop is stolen, you can wipe the contents remotely.


OneDrive, Google Drive, DropBox and Apples’ cloud service all look like alternatives, but they’re not.  Not really.  They’re great for synchronizing a single drive to the cloud, and if you’re accessing that cloud drive on another device, the synchronization is useful.

But they don’t back up every single drive on your computer.  I currently have four hard drives, plus my boot disk, which is a solid state drive.  All of them could fail without warning.  In the past, when a disk drive goes belly-up without chance of recovery, it is always without warning.


I’ve owned precisely one dedicated eReader in my life.  A Sony eReader…remember those?  It lasted about six months before it imploded and I found it a real pain in the ass to remember to take it with me. 

I’ve been reading books on my hand-held device since before cellphones came along.  I used my Palm Pilot.  So the transition to reading on my cellphone was natural for me. 

I’ve gone through a number of reading apps on my phone.  I dislike with one exception the retail-provided apps like Kindle, Nook and Kobo reader.  I used Google Play Books’ eReader for years, because it would let me upload my own books and wouldn’t treat those books like embarrassing backwoods cousins. 

Since Calibre’s inbuilt reader added exportable note-taking to its features, I’ve given up on Google’s ereader, because the organization of books really was lousy. 

Now I use Moon+ reader combined with Calibre Companion (CC) on my cellphone for fiction and non-fiction that doesn’t require notetaking (memoirs, histories, etc.).  I could take notes on the phone.  The feature is there and the notes are exportable.  But usually, when I’m taking notes, it’s a heavy-duty session of study, underlining, re-interpreting, and building prescriptive tasks.  I like having the big screen for such sessions.

CC, though, keeps everything beautifully organized on my phone, and I can search using the tags I added in Calibre on my desktop—it all synchronizes.  So now I don’t have to reach for another file to find out what book comes next in a series.  It’s right there in CC.

For non-fiction that requires heavy note-taking and study, I use Calibre’s ereader on my desktop, with OneNote docked to the side (I mentioned this last week, too). 

As both readers pull from the same source (Calibre), I’m not tripping over multiple versions of my books. 

So far, I like this system.

Quick mentions

Apps and tools I use that merit a mention, but not a long discussion:

  • Behind The – for first and last name inspiration, research.  Great for character naming.  Love the Random Name Generator.
  • Duotrope – market information and submission tracking. I use it to keep track of my short fiction, which I sell to pro markets.

What tools do you use, that you couldn’t live without?

Tell me in comments!

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